May 4 2012 by Stuart Wilson, Ayrshire Post (main ed)
TEED-OFF taxi drivers insist they’re being put out of work – by a council rulebook.
Cabbies in South Ayrshire are being forced to ditch their vehicles once they’ve been on the road for 10 years.
And they say the age limit, imposed by council chiefs, will now leave hardworking drivers without a job.
Drivers are up in arms because they must retire their motors – regardless of their condition.
And they say the cost of buying new £36,000 Hackneys is too much to bear.
South Ayrshire is going against Scottish Government guidance by setting an age limit on its vehicles.
The limit, which was brought in when taxis licences were deregulated, has since been criticised by Holyrood.
Now drivers want to know why.
Cabbie Willie Mellon hit out: “We pay £175 twice a year to go through an MOT and tests.
“Our vehicles are checked to the very highest standards and our point is why throw them off the road if they’re in perfectly good shape?”
And fellow driver, Jim McEwan, added: “All we want is a reasonable approach from the council.
“We cannot afford to go out and buy new cars at a cost of £36,000 and it’s especially frustrating when we have roadworthy vehicles sitting going to waste.
“The council want the best possible standard of cars on the road – but so do we.
“It’s in our interests to have our taxis passing the council-standard tests and making sure they are roadworthy.
“In effect, the council is saying it doesn’t trust its own MOT testing station to find fault with our cars so it’s automatically puting them off the road itself.”
Drivers have been angered by the attitude of council officials in South Ayrshire, which differs to most other local authorities in Scotland.
Both North and East Ayrshire Councils test on a bi-annual basis once cars reach six years old, but they allow vehicles to run until they fail those tests.
And John Maguire, chair of South Ayrshire’s Taxi Owners Association, says problems run deep.
He insisted: “It’s an affront to the drivers to keep these rules in place.
“South Ayrshire is one of only three local authorities in Scotland to implement an age limit and it makes little sense to do so.
“On top of that, they also give us no choice on which testing station we attend, which also goes against the guidelines set out by the Scottish government.”
The government’s latest document on taxi licensing, released last month, states that setting an age limit for vehicles is “somewhat arbitrary and disproportionate particularly as it is perfectly possible for a well-maintained older vehicle to be in good condition.”
It also states that “it is good practice for local authorities to consider having more than one testing station.”
Speaking on behalf of South Ayrshire Council as the local licensing authority, Valerie Andrews, head of legal and administration said: “Scottish Government guidance on taxi and private hire licensing allows local authorities significant discretion on how best to devise, implement and manage local licensing laws for its own regulatory area.
“Our regulations have been in place since 2008 and, prior to implementing them, we undertook consultation with the taxi and private hire operators’ forum on what we were proposing, with the aim of securing a fleet of well maintained, high-quality taxis and private hire vehicles in South Ayrshire.”
She went on: “We understand there may be some vehicles reaching the 10 year mark which are still in roadworthy condition, but, in our experience, these are the exception, rather than the rule.
“Only recently, we had to suspend an operator’s licence because vehicles aged under 10 years were so poorly maintained.
“Our primary concern is –- and will continue to be – the absolute safety and welfare of fare paying passengers in South Ayrshire and it would be inappropriate to comment on arrangements in other local authority areas.”